Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Labour still doesn`t get it: pt 2, education

Labour still doesn`t get it! Gove`s reforms were unnecessary.
Labour`s policies on housing and the minimum wage have been criticised recently for being too moderate, for lacking ambition and for failing to appreciate the fundamental problems. Sadly the same criticism can be made of the party`s education policies.
   The main reason for this appears to be the same one which explains Labour`s acceptance of the need for austerity: it is Labour`s failure to understand that the policies of the Tory-dominated coalition government are ideologically driven. The Tories are not so much concerned with reducing the deficit as with carrying out their aim of shrinking the state back to levels last seen in the middle of the last century. We only have to examine the borrowing figures for the coalition in the last five years, £572.5bn compared with the Labour government, in thirteen years borrowing £442.7bn. Deficit reduction was essential, we were told, to prevent lumbering the next generation with huge debts, but the government almost immediately lumbered thousands of university students with mountains of debt! Banks in need of re-capitalisation were given £375bn via quantitative easing, no mention of deficit causing funding problems there!
Similarly, to enable Gove to have carte blanche powers over education, the Tories led the people to believe that reforms were necessary, because as GCSE and A-level results had improved so much, examinations had to be made more difficult, the attainment of top grades made more arduous, and the division of the assessment procedure into manageable chunks called modules ended. Labour`s immediate response was negligible at best, failing to challenge the basic precept that the success of the state comprehensive schools, with results on a par with many expensive private schools, had more to do with other factors, and that Tory reforms would give an unfair advantage to children from well-off homes. Tories do not want either level playing fields or an increase in social mobility, and the immediate removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance should have reminded the Labour party of those facts
 Had teachers been asked to explain improved results, they would undoubtedly have emphasised facts like increased pupil effort, increased teacher expertise, the inevitability of results improving with previous mistakes being rectified, mark schemes scrutinised, and coursework problems resolved. Television programmes might well highlight unruly behaviour and ill-discipline in the classroom to improve viewing figures, but focussing cameras on the students concentrating on their learning, absolute silence during tests, essays being discussed, and evaluation techniques examined would provide a more accurate picture of everyday life in most state schools, and also explain the recent improvements in examination results. Then there`s the increased availability of technology being used, bringing learning and lessons to life, in a way which was well nigh impossible a few decades ago.
      If some pupils gained top grades even though their spelling and grammar were rather wayward, changes to mark schemes, with the highest levels only available to accurate users of language, would have done the trick.
 Instead Gove proceeded with wholesale reforms which took educational assessment back to the last century, with their emphasis on long,essay-based examinations, the need for factual recall rather than skills in analysis and evaluation, the ending of modular assessment and coursework, and the teaching of nationalist, imperialist, British history. Top jobs were to be for Oxbridge graduates, with state school applicants still having less chance of gaining places in the so-called top universities than those from private schools. Without the repeal of Gove`s changes, it is likely schools will have to develop different curricula for different abilities, with the inevitable consequence being different types of schools. Without changes introduced by law, in student recruitment, universities will continue to give preference to the privately educated, even though only 7% attend private schools. 
      But what does Labour, now with the privately-educated , history expert, Tristram Hunt at the helm, do? At first out-goveing Gove was the priority, with support for free schools, Performance Related Pay, re-licensing of teachers, and most recently, a teachers` oath. Notice how all of these proposals imply the inadequacy of the teaching profession and the need to improve. Hunt has supported the return of AS levels and the need for all teachers in the classroom to be qualified, but he clearly does not get it. Gove`s reforms were introduced, not because of inadequacies on the part of pupils and teachers, but because of their success, and this is why Hunt and the Labour party should be promising to support teachers and to repeal every single measure Gove placed on the statute book. Gove was criticised because he would not listen to the education experts, the ones with expertise and experience, but is there any evidence to suggest Hunt is any different in this respect?

Bernie Evans

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